Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"The commander of Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, Major Thomas Trafford, ordered his men to send their sabres for sharpening - the first time this had been done in the two years since the unit was formed."
Almost as though the powers that be had already decided what was going to happen...
I must confess I was unaware of the Peterloo massacre until relatively recently when I heard about the recent Mike Leigh film in the media. It seems as though, perhaps, it is one of those... unfortunate... incidents in British social history that the authorities would just prefer everyone to forget about. Don't want the hoi polloi getting ideas and all that. It certainly wasn't on my school history curriculum. It is however, therefore, precisely the kind of event that should never be forgotten.
As we reach the 200th anniversary of the massacre, the fundamental principles that those brave enough to march were fighting for - equality, dignity and simply some small measure of respect for their very existence from those who were exploiting them - are still under threat from those who sit merrily atop the fiscal pile.
In the week I read about the Chinese tech billionaire Jack Ma's desire for a '996' working week to be the norm in China, that's 9am to 9pm six days a week - presumably because he wants to extract even more money at the expense of his basically indentured labour force - it is foolish to presume the victory for personal liberty and equality has been achieved. Zero hero contracts anyone...?
Give the rich a chance to oppress those with less than them to keep them in their place and they will always do so. With disaster capitalists like Rees-Mogg lurking in the wings to take advantage of the chaos that Brexit would cause, it is the responsibility of us all to fight against the tyrants, whatever form they may take, not just for our rights, but also for those of others less fortunate.
Peterloo is the story of when one such movement of the people became too powerful for the authorities to ignore. Purporting to the tell the true story of events from direct testimony drawn from "letters, memoirs, journalists' accounts, spies' reports and courtroom evidence" assembled by historian Professor Robert Poole and edited into script form by Eva Schlunke, works like this are vital in reminding us of the sacrifices people have made to earn us the relative degree of civil freedom that we do have.
Illustrated by the intriguingly named Polyp, presumably no relation to ASTERIOS POLYP, the clear art style with a colourful yet sensitively subdued in tone palette lends itself perfectly to this informative, narration-based approach. You feel like you are observing a fascinating documentary where this heinous tragedy is unfolding before your very eyes, almost as though you were there yourself, observing events directly. You'll no doubt feel as indignant with rage as I did when the massacre commences, and just as impotent as the poor, terrified unfortunates caught up in it.
As with the excellent fictional A NEW JERUSALEM by Benjamin Dickson which captured the difficulties of soldiers returning home to civilian life after enduring the traumas of World War II, we are fortunate that there are publishers such as New Internationalist and Myriad willing to undertake these vital projects that help to shine a light on the darker elements of our British cultural history.